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Special Captain Grover “Lee” Holloway

Lisa Cooper

Many times a column begins with one bit of information someone shares with me. I also launch research based on a blurb in the newspaper or mention of Douglasville or Douglas County in a book. I try to take those bits of information and dig deeper for the story behind the history by peeling back the layers of information to get a complete picture. 

Some of these stories take a few hours to flesh out, while others take weeks and even months to get the whole story, or at least a story I’m satisfied with. 

I often become very invested in these stories as I discover the details. I become very involved with each cast of characters whether they are long dead or still move among us.

So, when I find someone’s life didn’t go as planned or ended suddenly, I’m shocked.

It’s like I’ve lost a friend.

Take Grover “Lee” Holloway for example.

In 1939 folks in Douglas County were awfully proud of him as it was announced Holloway had been hired as a pilot for Delta Airlines.

Holloway had trained with Hugh Watson, another son of Douglas County and an early pioneer in the world of aviation.

At the time Holloway took the job with Delta he had been flying 10 and a half years, and had previously owned the Eastern Air College at Atlanta’s Municipal Airport where he taught 30 Georgia Tech students to fly. 

Eastern Air College held the distinction of being one of the first air colleges in the United States to receive a government contract to teach college students to fly. There were a total of 11 schools associated with the program including Georgia Tech, the University of Michigan and Tuskegee Institute.

The Civilian Pilot Training Program was introduced by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in December 1938 with the goal to provide civilian pilot and mechanic training to 20,000 college students a year.

The purpose of the program was to increase the military preparedness of the United States with a 72 hour ground school course followed by 35 to 50 hours of flight instruction.

The program was touted as an unqualified success even though the military establishment was initially unenthusiastic. Many politicians were also unenthusiastic and divided along party lines. 

The Isolationists called the program “provocative saber rattling” and it threatened the nation’s neutrality while others fussed about the pork barrel spending. 

Things changed on September 1, 1939 with Hitler’s invasion of Poland.

Suddenly, many of the military and political leaders saw the program’s value and were appalled at the shortage of pilots, instructors, and training aircraft. 

After participating in the Civilian Pilot Training Program, Holloway was hired by Delta Airlines on June 9, 1939, a position he would hold for almost nine years.

On March 10, 1948, Grover “Lee” Holloway was the captain for a flight on a DC-4 departing Chicago’s Municipal Airport heading to Miami, Florida. 

The flight had a total of 13 on board with four of those being crew members. As the plane lifted off the Chicago area was experiencing snow flurries. 

Within a few seconds as the plane reached an altitude of 500 to 1,000 feet something went terribly wrong. The plane came straight down in a vertical dive near 55th Street and Cicero Avenue.

It was a fiery crash with 12 of the 13 on board perishing including Captain Holloway. The only survivor, Mrs. Tripolina Meo of Oaklawn, Illinois, was pulled from the wreckage with both arms and both legs broken. She was screaming for her 7-year old-son whose remains were later found in the arms of another female passenger.

Delta’s first accident since 1934 was ruled a loss of longitudinal control for reasons unknown, and Douglas County lost one of its early aviation all-stars. 

Lisa Cooper writes the amazing stories of Douglas County each Sunday. You can also find her Facebook page for Douglas County history under the name “Every Now and Then,” and visit her website at lisalandcooper.com for even more stories.

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